I've heard of administrators or parents complaining when a trans speaker talks to a class, when a teacher comes out as trans, or even when a student does - but I never expected that the mere presence of a photograph would cause a similar reaction.
The photo exhibit, "Shared Community, Mixed Identities," was not even about trans people, but about representing the diversity of backgrounds that multiracial people come from. My photo was among them, along with a small bio which mentions that I am trans. It was designed as a part of a community project and made available to whatever spaces wish to display it. And when a local elementary school requested to display it, it suddenly became a significant controversy. Yesterday, multiple local news outlets decided to pick it up as a story.
I want to be careful not to overstate the complaints. It's only a very small number of parents that complained about my photo. Many parents have come out in support of the exhibit, including my photo. The publicity generated from this controversy has led other parents to request the exhibit in their children's school. But the minority who have a problem with it have been very vocal and very persistent. When the issue arose, staff voiced their own complaint - not so much about the exhibit as much as their lack of preparation and concern that in discussing trans issues they might mistakenly say something inappropriate.
I've actually been quite impressed with the school administrations response, and in particular with Meadowlark principal BJ Blake. In a letter inviting parents to a meeting on the issue she wrote:
I do not ask that anyone change their personal opinions or feelings about LGBT issues. I do ask that we allow children to be who they are without the risk of abuse from fellow students. I believe that having the photo array will help the ML/BV student body understand the need to respect all people in a deeper way. A safe environment creates an atmosphere that is conducive to and supports learning.
They decided to take down the photo exhibit - temporarily. Then they provided training for staff on trans issues. Now the school district is creating a new copy of the exhibit which will permanently be held in the county's Education Service District library and be available to any school that whishes to check it out. This new copy will contain new age-appropriate bios. To be clear, it will have the same content, but be specifically written for a younger audience. Here is the current draft of my new bio:
Kids bullied me at school and that was really hard, but I had friends to help support me. I loved math and the chess team, even though sometimes I was picked on for it. I loved going to the Gay Pride parades with my two moms when I was little. I still do. I love being a part of the queer community. I'm trans. That means that even though others told me I was a boy I knew they were wrong and one day I decided I was going to be a girl. Sometimes it's hard having light skin because people don't notice I'm multi-racial and I wish they would. In the same way, sometimes people notice I'm trans because I don't fit their idea of what a girl looks like and other times people wouldn't know unless I told them. If people are nice about it, I like it when they notice I'm multi-racial and trans, but it's good that not everyone notices because some people are mean about it and I like to have the choice to tell them or not.
This seems like a great solution, indeed an excellent example of gaining the most from a teachable moment. There's a meeting tonight with parents from the school. With luck things will move forward smoothly and the controversy will die down.